The head of the Senate Commerce Committee is questioning Visa and MasterCard about a press report that the companies are considering combining information about consumers' purchases with data about their online activity in order to send people targeted ads.
"As a general matter, I am already concerned that privacy protections afforded to American consumers in the commercial marketplace are inadequate, whether they are surfing the World Wide Web, using their smartphones, or shopping in their local supermarket," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said Thursday in a letter to Visa CEO Joseph Saunders.
"Allegations that Visa is contemplating a combination of information databases -- heretofore unconnected -- that would allow the company or nonaffiliated parties to build and maintain detailed consumer profiles of unprecedented proportions raise new concerns."
Rockefeller sent a similar letter to MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga.
The move stemmed from an article this week in The Wall Street Journal stating that MasterCard plans to sell marketers "an analysis of anonymous, aggregated data sorted into marketing 'segments,' such as people with a high propensity to be interested in international travel."
MasterCard told the WSJ that it aggregates and analyzes details about 23 billion transactions a year, but that it does so anonymously.
Visa reportedly is "pitching the ability to use cardholders' anonymous buying histories, in aggregate, to tailor the ads people see online" the WSJ reported.
The source for that statement was an "ad executive who discussed the plan with a Visa official recently."
The company also has applied for patents that involve tracking people who have entered their names or credit card information online, then combining that personal information with "a broader profile of that user that includes that person's purchase history based on their credit-card transactions," the newspaper wrote.
Rockefeller is now asking the credit card companies to answer detailed questions about their plans.
Automated Summary from: MediaPost News